In some circles, there is a school of thought to keep music genres pure. By drawing influence from other genres, the one that forms the core of a band’s sound becomes diluted. For some, this makes it worse: a muddied mess of confused music that is pulled in multiple directions and subsequently goes nowhere. Conversely, those proponents of genre-blending get to experience a broadening of their horizons, and a greater stereo affair. It is not without risk, however.
At their worst, black metal and orchestral music can fall rather flat. Generic black metal where it is all tremolo riffs, screeching and blast beats can bore the hole off of anyone, whilst orchestral can appear lofty, impenetrable and drab. The combination of the two should, ideally, blend their sonic intensity to fill up the stereo field and create a force to be reckoned with. All too often though, the symphonic elements are an after-thought; bolted on at the end of the songwriting process with lame string and horn sections adding bland chord pads. It hardly inspires a genre that can often be uninspired on its own, so how do Portland, Oregon-natives, EMPYREAN FIRE fare?
In short, pretty damn good. In isolation, the black metal aspect of the band’s sound on ‘Deliverance’ rages as good as any of their contemporaries (see IMMOLATION, EMPEROR and DIMMU BORGIR), but avoids the temptation of unending and uninteresting tremolo riffs; whilst their symphonic side sounds opulent and bombastic. Combined, the result is a terrifying and dense mix; perfect for the retelling of Milton’s classics: ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Paradise Regained’. You don’t go naming the above three influences if you cannot at least back yourself up with the goods, and EMPYREAN FIRE certainly hold their own. That this is the band’s debut makes the product all the more impressive.
There really is rather a lot to like for fans of the genre throughout ‘Deliverance’. If you’re more of the trve-r persuasion, with the fire and fury-style riffs and unrelenting screaming, you may wish to look elsewhere as variety is the spice of life here. Sure, there are those brutal moments that pepper the record (the band’s eruption on “Corruption” (!) will set you right), but EMPYREAN FIRE are more about employing melody to uphold their songwriting majesty. Standout blast “Descent” utilises this to tremendous effect, with the symphonic elements – namely the choral effect – carrying the melodic weight atop frantic riffing before hypnotic clean vocals break through the din. Similarly, with “The Siege”, though the frenetic speed at which the rest of the record takes a slower turn here (even with the blast beats that linger throughout).
It’s this attention to melody, alongside a full, punchy mix that makes ‘Deliverance’ such an enthralling listen. Were it to feature trve-r production, the album’s effect would be lost and the impact negated. The care with which the symphonic elements have been written should not be understated, either – it’s easy to write simple string and horn pads, but to make something that adds movement and melodic elements (as in the string trills during “Final Battle”) takes skill, so kudos is due. It may be sacrilege to many metal fans, but it should be noted that the balance between the terrific shrieks and clean vocals adds a spectacular layer to proceedings, that would be remiss were there just the one type of vocal.
To reiterate an earlier point, ‘Deliverance’ is an impressive debut record from a band dancing a dangerous game in one of black metal’s trickier subgenres. The fact that EMPYREAN FIRE haven’t solely opted for the thrash and burn approach, and allows the symphonic elements to take centre stage at times, before segueing back and letting the tumult of crunching riffs and spiky arpeggios take the fore should be commended. Whilst they haven’t pushed anything new forward, they also haven’t fallen into typical tropes for long, nor overwritten anything. A fiery, balanced and carefully executed debut of symphonic black metal finery – what better way to round off 2020?